On January 1, 2022, Winnie-The-Pooh — written by A.A. Milne and published in 1926 — officially entered the public domain — which means that Disney no longer has exclusive rights to the material. Winnie-The-Pooh introduced audiences around the world to Christopher Robin and his friends in The Hundred Acre Wood — Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, and Owl. Tigger was not introduced into Winnie The Pooh until later, so he will remain exclusive to Disney until 2024.
Now, what exactly does it mean that Winnie-The-Pooh entered the public domain? It means that anyone can use the characters as they please without having to pay a fee. Other production companies could choose to make their own Winnie the Pooh movies or television series. However, the Winnie the Pooh character — the adorable one with the red t-shirt and a rumbly in his tumbly — will only belong to Disney for the time being. Disney created that version of Winnie the Pooh, as well as his friends like Piglet (who wore green in the original story), so they can continue to create that version of the honey-loving bear without having to worry that another company will create something identical.
There is also one character associated with Winnie the Pooh that will not be entering the public domain — Pooh’s friend Gopher. Gopher was created by Disney, so they own the rights to him and can add him to their stories as they like. Should Disney create new characters to bring into the Winnie the Pooh story, those would also be exclusively owned by Disney for 95 years (the current copyright length).
Winnie-The-Pooh is not the only book entering the public domain that Disney fans will be familiar with. Also becoming available to everyone is the 1923-story Bambi – a Life in the Woods. The coming-of-age story was made into an animated film released by Disney in 1942 — with Disney adding the characters of Thumper and Flower to make the story unique to Disney.
Steamboat Willie and Mickey Mouse are both scheduled to enter the public domain in 2024, along with Tigger. Twice in the past, Mickey was supposed to enter the public domain, but Disney successfully fought to extend their rights to the mouse who started it all. So it remains to be seen if Mickey will actually enter the public domain, or if Disney will be able to successfully retain the sole rights to him for even longer.